When it comes to treating well water, the best thing you can do is create a schedule for regular water testing. This identifies any potential issues and their sources, helping you choose the best course of action — whether that means installing a whole-home or reverse osmosis (RO) filter, a water softener or some combination of the three.
Why? Unlike city water, well water isn’t treated or monitored for regulated contaminants.* That means every element of water treatment is up to you — and although well water is generally safe to drink, there may still be issues with taste, odor, appearance and hardness, as well as more serious issues that could impact your health.
Here are the dos and don’ts of well water treatment — plus a look at water treatment systems, water testing, common issues and more.
Well Water Treatment: Dos and Don’ts
Treating well water is important for water safety and enjoyment, so it’s helpful to know exactly what you’re getting into. Here are a few things you should definitely do (and a few you definitely shouldn’t):
- Test regularly: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends yearly testing for total coliform bacteria, total dissolved solids (TDS), nitrates and pH levels. You can test less frequently for other issues, including sodium, lead, iron and more – it depends whether you have reason to believe these may be in your water supply. However, you should always test after certain events such as changes in water quality, issues with or near your well system or even after having a baby.
- Check your well: Remember, it’s not just the water quality itself that matters; you’re responsible for the well itself, too. The CDC recommends checking your well for mechanical and other problems every spring.
- Pay attention to boil advisories: A boil water advisory is issued when bacteria either has or may have infiltrated a community water source. While these advisories are generally specific to city water, it’s still important to pay attention to them — especially if the contaminant in question could have reached your well, too.
- Choose a water treatment system: The type of issue or issues you find in your water will help determine what type of treatment can assist, such as a reverse osmosis water filter or whole-home filtration system. A well water filtration system doesn’t just address potential contaminants; it can also help improve the taste, smell and appearance of your well water.
- Choose a water softener: A water softener may not be the only thing you need for well water treatment, but it’s one of the most important tools in your water quality arsenal. Wells are particularly susceptible to hard water. Just make sure you work with your local water expert to choose a water softener designed for your water hardness and water usage levels.
- Rely on boiling: Boiling is an effective way to kill viruses, bacteria and parasites and is a good choice for emergency water treatment. However, boiling isn’t the most efficient method for long-term needs. That’s because boiling doesn’t work the same way as a comprehensive water filtration system or water softener. Boiling may not remove metals, hard water minerals and other potential sources of water quality issues.
- Just add chlorine: Chlorine is another effective water treatment method for emergency situations. In fact, chlorine is one of the major disinfectants used to protect drinking water quality in municipal systems. However, like boiling, chlorine isn’t a long-term solution because it doesn’t address certain chemical contaminants and other potential well water issues.
- Let water sit: You may have heard that letting water sit overnight makes it safer to drink. The truth is that this is generally a way to address high chlorine levels in city water — an issue you won’t face with well water, as you don’t have a municipal system adding a disinfectant to your water supply. As such, letting water sit is unlikely to address concerns specific to well water.
- Use single-serve bottled water instead of your tap water: If you have any concerns about your well water quality, single-serve bottled water is likely not the best, safest or most cost-efficient alternative. Bottled water costs 300% more — generally $0.62 per gallon more than tap water (which costs only $0.02 per gallon). Additionally, single-use plastic bottles contribute to the 14 million tons of plastic (or more) that end up in our oceans every year.
Common Well Water Issues
Often, you may not realize you have a well water problem until you see, smell or taste it. That’s why you should know what to look out for, including issues like these:
Hard water, which causes buildup due to excess mineral content, is common in wells. It can lead to scaling or lingering soap scum on faucets, drains, showers and tubs. You may notice that your dishes have spots no matter how many times you run them through the dishwasher. Hard water can also make your hair feel dry and leave your skin itchy or irritated after a shower.
If you see reddish-orange rust stains on your sinks, tubs or fixtures, you may have iron in your well water. The same may be true if you notice a metallic taste every time you take a sip.
Does your tap water smell like rotten eggs? This could be a sign of too much hydrogen sulfide in your water system — a problem that can occur naturally in your well or may be caused by certain kinds of pollution.
Turbidity refers to water’s clearness — so if your drinking water always seems cloudy or bubbly, you may have one or more issues. For example, sediment or suspended solids can sometimes lead to low turbidity.
Some of these issues may occur in municipal water systems, too, but they’re particularly common in well water. On the other hand, there are some issues you likely won’t have to worry about — such as high levels of fluoride or chlorine — because your water supply isn’t treated by the city.
How To Test Your Well Water
Although some kinds of water contamination are easy to notice, others — like arsenic — are undetectable without testing. That’s just one of many reasons testing should be your first step in treating well water.
There are a few options for testing well water:
DIY Test Kits
You’ve likely seen DIY water test kits that allow you to take and test your own water sample. While this option may be good for quick, easy results, you may not get the comprehensive answers you’re looking for. That’s because you have to decipher the test data on your own — and, unfortunately, no next steps are recommended based on your specific water problems.
Professional At-Home Testing
If you want to know exactly what your well water quality is and what that means for your home, you need a water test and consultation.
In our water test procedure, your local Culligan® Water expert comes to your house and does the testing for you, looking for issues like hard water and more. When the test is complete, they’ll help you interpret and understand the results, giving you specific recommendations on water solutions. Better yet, the test is free and can be completed in under 30 minutes.
Professional Lab Testing
Although in-home water testing is a great place to start, some potential contaminants need a lab test to identify. Depending on your water concerns, your local water expert may suggest sending a water sample back to Culligan’s IL EPA-certified lab for an even more thorough analysis.
This testing testing can identify issues such as:
- E. coli
- Hydrogen sulfide
- And more
Across all packages, these tests cover more than 40 contaminants and come with plenty of guidance, support and recommendations from your local water expert.
Water Quality Indicators
Public agencies such as the EPA and Health Canada won’t oversee your private well water supply. Instead, they may set guidelines you can use to make a water treatment plan — for example, these “water quality indicators” identified by the EPA:
- Total Coliforms: These microbes are found just about everywhere in the natural environment, including surface water, soil and the digestive systems of some animals. While these microbes may not make you sick, they can indicate the presence of more worrisome contaminants such as bacteria and parasites.
- Fecal Coliforms: Also known as E. coli, this bacterial strain is found in the stool and digestive systems of warm-blooded animals. When it comes to testing, make sure your test looks for “E. coli O157:H7,” as it’s a more serious contaminant than the usually harmless “WQI E. coli.”
- pH: If your water’s pH is unbalanced, you could have issues ranging from unpleasant tastes to damaged plumbing. That’s why pH is another important water quality indicator.
This type of federal guidance is helpful when determining how and when to test your well water, but they won’t give you a comprehensive view of your water quality. The total list of indicators and contaminants will depend on where you live and where on your property your well is located. You can contact your local health or environmental department to learn more, but your local water expert can help, too.
Choosing Well Water Treatment Systems
If you have well water problems, your water expert has solutions. Water filtration systems, water softeners or a combination of the two could enhance the taste and softness of your water.
Well water softeners help remove the minerals that cause hardness, like calcium and magnesium, to improve your water supply. Softeners typically use salt, but salt-free conditioners are available for users in brine-restricted areas.
Water filtration systems improve the quality of water throughout your home for hydration, cooking and bathing. By reducing the presence of many contaminants — such as iron, sulfur and sediment — you can enjoy great-tasting, better-smelling water while also reducing the potential for rust stains and other unsightly household problems. This can even protect your clothing, water-using appliances and plumbing fixtures from damage.
Two basic types of water filtration systems are:
- Whole home: These solutions address specific problem water issues like iron, sediment and hydrogen sulfide, and arsenic. These systems are installed where your water enters your home, so you’ll benefit from cleaner water from every tap.
- Reverse osmosis: These more targeted systems are designed to provide comprehensive filtration for a broad variety of potential issues in your drinking water. Culligan RO systems are certified to reduce 12 times more contaminants than the leading standard filter pitcher.**
Take Charge of Well Water Treatment
Well water is generally safe to drink, but it can require the right treatment to get there. Because water treatment is completely up to you when you have a private well, it’s important to know what to look for, what your options are and how best to test.
Are you ready to take charge of your well water? Schedule your free, in-home water test and consultation today.
*Contaminants may not be present in your water.
** Aquasential RO and Smart RO when configured with post-filter and Total Defense cartridge.
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